John Scheinman has won the 2014 Media Eclipse Award for Writing in the Feature/Commentary category for "Memories of a Master: The Determined Life of Dickie Small," a retelling of the remarkable life of late Mid-Atlantic trainer Richard "Dickie" Small, who died of cancer at age 68 in April 2014. Scheinman's article appeared as a long-form on bloodhorse.com May 12, 2014.
This is the first Eclipse Award for Scheinman, the Baltimore-based freelance writer and editor and former turf writer at the Washington Post. It is the second media Eclipse Award earned by Blood-Horse this year.
Scheinman will be presented his trophy at the 44th Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony Saturday, Jan. 17, at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The Eclipse Awards are presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders' Cup, and The Stronach Group and produced by the NTRA.
"I'm thrilled to win the Eclipse Award and honored to win for this story on Dickie Small," Scheinman said. "I invested more time and more of myself in this project than any other that I have written on horse racing. It feels incredible to join the company of past winners whose writing I have admired so much through the years."
In "Memories of a Master," Scheinman reveals a man who lived life to its fullest yet never seemed to get too full of himself. Raised in a family rich in racing tradition, Small excelled playing sports at a young age, but bad grades forced him out of the University of Pennsylvania. He enrolled at Delaware and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science and agricultural biochemistry. Before he could be drafted into the Army, he enlisted and wound up conducting dangerous top-secret missions with Special Forces behind enemy lines in Vietnam. After returning home, it took a while for him to readjust, but Small eventually took out his trainer's license in 1974 and ultimately built one of the most successful careers of any horseman in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The longform was designed by Blood-Horse Web designer Kim Reeves, photography by Jim McCue, and videography by Tom McCue.
Scheinman brings to focus Small's world of training horses and how both his military discipline and independent spirit coexisted as he honed his craft. His story touches on Small's intimidating temper and struggles with alcohol, but also his playful nature and the fierce loyalty he inspired in those who worked for him. It also details Small's exploits with the blazingly fast and ill-fated filly Caesar's Wish and the idiosyncratic multiple graded stakes winner Broad Brush. Scheinman's story shows how, even while dying from cancer, Small showed up every day to do the job he loved until the end.
Once a trainer who preferred to get down in a stall and do the dirty work himself rather than have someone else do it wrong, in his final days 68-year-old Small had been reduced to fighting merely to remain present in what had become a shadow of his former life. It took something as relentlessly virulent as cancer to cut down a man who lived with such great gusto...
"The thing about getting sick is, I had a really full life," Small said three months before he died. "I never missed a beat. I never missed one thing my whole life, and all of the sudden, 'Oh, sh-t, I'm sick now.'"
"I knew that Dickie was sick and had lived this incredible life, and I was so excited when The Blood-Horse gave me the go-ahead to do this," said Scheinman. "I had written about his stakes winners a bit through the years, and from time to time enjoyed sitting with him in the late afternoon outside his barn at Pimlico talking about great horses, what's right and wrong with racing, politics, you name it. He was a great talker on all levels and a spellbinding storyteller. Spending so many hours with him in the final months of his life, listening to him, both of us knowing whatever I put together, this was going to be it; it was an intensely emotional experience for me. I am so thankful he gave me that."
A memorial was held five days later at Saint James Episcopal Church in Monkton.
The little brick church dates to 1755, and the graveyard surrounding it is filled with ancient headstones bearing the name Hutchins — Small's ancestors.
The pews were filled with family, friends, horsemen, and former employees; Rosie Napravnik took off her mounts at Keeneland and flew in to pay her respects. She, like many other young female jockeys and exercise riders, got her first break at the track with Small.
At the Hunt Club reception that followed, a video loop replayed a few old races. There was Small, in a bowtie and one of those floppy fedoras he loved, with his brother Stephen, leading Broad Brush into the winner's circle after the spectacular photo finish victory in the Santa Anita Handicap.
"The clichés all break down with Dickie," writer and close friend Patrick Smithwick said during his eulogy. '"Oh, he was the guy who thought the glass was half full,' one might say. If you knew him, you knew that was wrong. The glass was flat-out overflowing, brimming, bubbling over."
The entire winning entry can be viewed on bloodhorse.com.
Honorable mention in the Feature/Commentary category went to two-time Eclipse Award winner Mary Simon for "The Story of Old Rosebud, An American Tragedy," which was published on DRF.com April 18, 2014, and to Brendan O'Meara for "When Smarty Jones Shook the Earth," which appeared on horseraceinsider.com September 21, 2014.
Judges in this category were Ed Gray, former Boston Herald racing writer; Bob Kieckhefer of United Press International; Beverley Smith, former sports writer for the Globe and Mail in Canada; and Hank Wesch, former racing writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune.